Mayon Volcano survivor: It was like a scene from hell


In this handout photo taken on May 7, 2013 and released by PHIVOLCS-DOST volcano Mount Mayon spews a thick column of ash 500 metres (1,600 feet) into the air, as seen from the city of Legazpi, albay province, southeast of Manila. Five people are feared dead after one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes spewed a giant ash cloud on Tuesday, with foreign tourists on its slopes during the eruption, authorities said. AFP PHOTO / PHIVOLCS-DOST

“I stood there frozen. I couldn’t believe what was happening, I didn’t know what to do. It was like a scene from hell.”

This was how Roel Llarena felt when a mountain hike turned into a nightmare on Tuesday as Mayon Volcano began spewing out giant rocks, killing five of his companions.

Llarena, 33, was one of the Filipino tour guides leading a group of foreigners up the 2,460-meter Mayon when the picturesque volcano suddenly shot a column of hot ash into the air.

The volcano, famed for its near-perfect cone, has a history of deadly eruptions. But it was not showing signs of activity when the tour group ascended, leading many to think it was safe.

“The tourists were all very nice and we were exchanging stories with them the previous night. I can’t believe this all happened, especially when the night before we were just all having fun,” Llarena said by phone.

Turning back too late

The group was climbing the mountain when rain started to pour down. Recognizing the danger, Llarena and the others began to turn back only to see a column of ash shoot from the cone.

The hikers took cover behind a huge rock as boulders, some as large as mini-vans, began tumbling toward them and carried some people to their death.

Llarena said a fellow guide, Nicanor Mabao, saved an Austrian woman by grabbing her by her bag. But three Germans, a Spanish woman and a Filipino guide—Llarena’s brother-in-law—were killed by the cascade of rocks.

Rescue teams recovered the five bodies but bad weather prevented helicopters from landing on the mountain and the body bags were carried down by hand.

A Thai tourist who went missing during the ash explosion was found with minor injuries on Tuesday, local officials said.

Volcanologists described the eruption as a 73-second “steam-driven minor explosion” that was not expected to be repeated anytime soon.

Chief state seismologist Renato Solidum said the explosion was triggered when the rainwater made contact with hot ash deposits on the crater mouth.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said some tourists were drawn to the volcano because of the danger.

“Mayon Volcano is an enigmatic personality. The more she does this, the more they will come. The more the danger, the more the tourists,” he told reporters.

But Llarena will not be guiding them anymore.

“After this I’m definitely not going back to Mayon. I curse Mayon Volcano. I vow never to climb it again,” he said.

Zero alert

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Wednesday maintained its zero alert status on Mayon Volcano, indicating no imminent eruption a day after steam-driven explosions rocked the peak and left five trekkers dead.

In a bulletin, the agency said it detected no increase in overall volcanic activity, and all seismic parameters remained within background levels in the past 24 hours. It monitored only two minor rockfall events on the slopes of the volcano.

“Phivolcs still maintains Alert Level 0 over Mayon Volcano, which means that no magmatic eruption is imminent,” Phivolcs said.

But it warned the public against “small phreatic eruptions” including small steam and ash explosions that may occur suddenly with little or no warning.

Explosion lasted 2 minutes

On Tuesday morning, steam trapped in the crater of the volcano triggered a series of explosions, dislodging rocks and emitting gray to brown clouds that rose half a kilometer above the summit, seismologists said.

Phivolcs said the steam and ash ejections lasted about two minutes and 26 seconds. But the agency dispelled fears of any imminent magmatic eruption.

The ash clouds rose 500 meters high above the summit and precipitated traces of ash in the areas west-northwest of the volcano, affecting Barangays (villages) Muladbucad (in Guinobatan town) and Nabonton, Nasisi, Basag and Tambo (in Ligao City), all in in Albay, and areas up slope of these barangays, Phivolcs said.

Phivolcs also strongly reminded the public to refrain from entering the six-kilometer radius Permanent Danger Zone due to the “perennial threat of sudden steam-driven eruptions and rockfalls from the upper and middle slopes of the volcano.”—With reports from AFP and DJ Yap

Originally posted at 07:48 pm | Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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  • kanoy

    just as the claim about the limp dtiver goes the same applies to these guides they should have known to double check the alerts after camping at 3000 ft before proceeding their failure to do so cost 5 lives just like the limo driver they are hot to blame,,,that area is a no-go area without alerts says salceda

    • GustoKoHappyKa

      Well it’s still listed as Zero Alert when then ascended … Sabi nga sa article it’s a “steam-driven minor explosion”

  • upupperclassman

    Could PHILVOCS be negligent here?

    • madam01

      It’s an active volcano. It is understood that it will erupt anytime, even without warning at all. Climbers/hikers should do it at their own risk. Better yet just impose total ban for hikers

    • Mel

      It was not an actual volcanic explosion it was phreatic, a release of steam pressure it happens to all active volcanoes. Lesson: stay away from volcanoes.

  • $5699914

    You curse the volcano, when it fact it was your actions who put you in a dangerous position.

  • TheTuth

    I’m once a mountaineer, I just hope that when they are saying they are having fun the night before, it’s all clean fun.
    We’ve had a very bad experience in one of the mountain when we did those stupid stuffs and not respect the mountain.

    Looks crazy, but it really happen. It just stop, when all of us say sorry.
    My condolence to mates and I agree with the Gov, there will now be more tourist/mountaineers, you can never stop them. Might as well regulate it, to minimize this kind of incident.

  • Marcos5

    There should be a mandate for tour guides and operators, should start bringing in an Icom VHF radio for emergency comms. There was a problem during rescue and communication. Start regulating start putting a standyby Search and Rescue Team and register all operators with logbooks that will trek Mayon Volcano.

  • Greg

    Joey Salceda says: “Mayon volcano is an enigmatic personality. The more she does this, the more they will come. The more the danger, the more the tourists.”

    One should be careful and appraise everyone of the risks.

    Most tourists don’t want to be subjected to this kind of danger. Most tourists climbing the volcano simply want the thrill of climbing it, experiencing nature, and enjoying the spectacular views.

    And after this event, there should be some warnings/advisories…that such events (steam driven explosions) can occur even if it a rare event.

    The guides, weather/volcano agencies, the local government should all work together to learn from this tragedy rather than trivializing it and saying that danger is part of the what tourists seek.
    I don’t think anyone can be blamed at this point. But trivializing it means that no one wants to learn from this event to help prevent fatalities in the future and/or to properly appraise everyone of the risks.

    By knowing what precipitates this event and what protection gear and/or what protective actions one should take when this happens, the right advisories can be given to all those involved in this tourism activity.

  • mitchjagger

    You can’t blame Llarena for not wanting to climb Mayon ever again. If it happened to you, you’ll be just as traumatized.

    Salceda’s statement is not only trivializing what happened, it’s also basically saying, “Whatever. The tourists will keep coming anyway.” It’s throwing away all sorts of accountability instead of managing the incident in such a way that people will not panic. It’s an arrogant statement in the midst of an awful tragedy.

  • farmerpo

    Where is Joey Salceda coming from? Iraq? Coming from the likes of Erap, I would say it is cavalier, but taking the death of five people lightly from the mouthpiece of the government is too far removed from decency.

    • 33Sam

      Its the culture of death that these officials specially in the U.S. are trying to make “trendy” that its ok to die because “death is a part of life” according to them. Its social engineering to make people not care about being safe.

  • penoy2012

    Can’t trust that governor. One minute he was Gibo’s campaign manager, the next minute he was w/ pnoy.

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